What Is A Warrant Officer?

Updated: March 25, 2021

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    What is a warrant officer? This rank, not as well-known as commissioned officers and non-commissioned enlisted officer ranks, is for those who are considered highly skilled in specialty areas. There aren’t as many warrant officers in uniform as there are other ranks but their jobs are very important.

    Which Branches Of Military Service Use Warrant Officers?

    What Is A Warrant Officer? At the time of this writing, only the Air Force and Space Force do not have warrant officers. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard all have warrant officer programs.

    Warrant Officers In The Chain Of Command

    Officers occupy the top of the chain of command. Warrant officers rank lower than the lowest ranking officer but higher than the highest ranking enlisted member. Some sources report that this is much different than other nations’ militaries where a warrant officer might be considered among the highest ranking members of the chain of command.

    Enlisted pay grades are generally E-1 through E-9. Officer pay grades are O-1 through O-10. Technically speaking there is an O-11 pay grade which hasn’t been filled since the days of General of the Army Omar Bradley.

    Warrant officer pay grades start at W-1 and end at W-5. Warrant officers have been used in a wide range of roles including leadership of military detachments and vessels.

    The Earliest American Military Warrant Officers

    In many cases throughout U.S. military history, the Army has made many of the important firsts, but in this particular case the United States Navy has the distinction of being the first U.S. military branch to use them.

    The Navy started using warrant officers in 1775 when a sailor was granted a “warrant” to act as the head of a Navy pursuit vessel called the USS Andrew Doria. In that particular case, the warrant was given as a sign of trust but did not, according to our sources, result in the actual transfer of command.

    For a time in early American military practices, midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy were required to serve a minimum tour at sea as a warrant officer prior to being approved to accept a commission as an ensign.

    The Army would begin using warrant officers in 1918, when Congress established the rank and pay grade rank of warrant officers at the same time it created the Army Mine Planter Service. That development was significant because it ended one way of doing business and created a more formal network of Army warrant officers and others responsible for the same duties.

    Becoming A Warrant Officer

    In most cases, it’s not possible to enter the U.S. military as a warrant officer, but each branch of military service has its own criteria for accepting warrant officer candidates and rules are always subject to change. There is one notable exception–the Army’s “high school to flight school” option for aviation warrant officers.

    This Army program is unique in that it requires no prior experience or flight training. There is a six-week program which accepts those with a high school diploma or the equivalent. Army warrant officers fly Army combat aircraft and this program is likely the most direct route for those who qualify to become warrant officers.

    In most other cases including Marine and Navy warrant officer programs you may be required to have a minimum time-in-service and be able to commit to a new military service contract as a condition of acceptance into the warrant officer program.

    Requirements can be strict; there are many “no waivers allowed” requirements including fitness, command recommendation, etc. All applicants are expected to submit an application package that includes endorsements by supervisors and commanders, etc.

    What It Takes To Qualify

    Army literature advises that in order to successfully apply for a warrant officer slot, “you must meet the minimum prerequisites or ask for a prerequisite waiver” and in such waivers “you must explain how you obtained the equivalent knowledge or experience required by the prerequisite through training or experience in your service”.

    Approval in such cases is dependent on whether or not the approving authority is convinced that your skills are such that the waiver is justified. You may need to submit military records showing your MOS, training, and any experience you’ve had in specialty areas.

    Personal Standards

    The Army screening process for warrant officers includes a review of Army tattoo policy and a review of the servicemember’s tattoos where applicable. This is just one example of the personal standards category applicants are expected to be mindful of when applying.

    Who Is Right For A Warrant Officer Job?

    As mentioned above, all branches have their own procedures, but continuing with our Army example, the most likely candidates for approval as Warrant Officers have between five and eight years of active duty service.

    Those who apply with more than 12 years of service must seek a waiver unless seeking an aviation position which requires a waiver after more than eight years of active service. The Army’s screening process includes the following requirements:

    • Soldiers must be E5 or above unless applying for the Aviation Warrant Officer program
    • Candidates must apply for Warrant Officer Candidate School
    • Applicants must have at least 12 months remaining on their enlistment contract
    • All applicants must be younger than 46 years old with some waivers possible
    • Must hold an ASVAB General Technical score of 110 or higher
    • Must Complete NCO leadership courses (this does not apply to aviation candidates)
    • The applicant must have “documented proficiency in a specialty area and in your MOS” (again, not applicable for aviation candidates)

    Application Materials To Submit

    Here is a list of application submission requirements for the Army’s aviation warrant officer program. This list may not be representative of every branch of service’s requirements but it gives a good idea of what you should be thinking about when gathering your documentation.

    • Letters of recommendation (three minimum, six maximum)
    • Resume
    • A personal statement addressing the applicants desire to apply
    • Official high school transcripts and college transcripts
    • Security clearance questionnaire

    When assembling a packet like this, it’s best to let another person review it for you ahead of time to make sure it is complete, legible, and meets all requirements.

    How Much Warrant Officers Make

    At the time of this writing, Warrant Officers at the lowest rank (W-1) earn between $32,000 and $40,000 in basic pay (the Army official site says this is true “depending on your Army experience”. Pay is always subject to change from year to year, this figure is listed as a historic reference only.

    How Long Warrant Officers Serve

    Each branch has a different service commitment for warrant officers. The Army requirement for non-aviation warrant officers is six years on active duty, but aviation warrant officers are required to serve 10 years total after completion of Warrant Officer Flight School.


    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News


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